I slept in ’till ten Saturday, woke up to the sounds of laughing and talking. They sounded awfully excited. I sat up, wincing as my shoulder protested. Who’d have thought that burns took so fucking long to stop hurting.
At the door, I leaned against it, tried to hear what the big deal was. It was a jumble, though. All their voices, over and around each other. And a voice I didn’t recognize. Ugh. Not my favorite way to wake up.
I sat down in front of my computer, wondered what to do. Join them? Shower? Prowl around in my room? The safest bet was to stay in here so I finished my homework, surfed the web a bit, and paced.
At one they all piled out the front door and I heard a vehicle start up. I headed to the living room, checked the place to make sure no one stayed behind. Didn’t seem to be. Out the front window I could see them in Mr. Grant’s mini van, sitting at the end of the drive, waiting while a car passed. They pulled out, left a trail of frozen exhaust crystals hanging in the air. The lighting was blue, thick snow on the slim birches.
I didn’t know what I felt.
I heard someone coming down from upstairs, went for the stairs to my room but didn’t make it before Adam stopped in the hallway, stared at me.
“Hey,” he said, after the seconds had become totally uncomfortable.
I made an awkward kind of head nod move, regretted it instantly, went for the stairs again.
“Ivan’s here.” He leaned against the half wall above the stairs.
I stopped again, looked at him. “Oh?” Could he have forgiven me?
He nodded, stuck his hands in his jeans pockets, pulled them out. “Yeah.” Ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah. They went to the store. For food. But I’ve got band practice. We didn’t know you were up or they would’ve asked you if you wanted to go along. So. Yeah.” Stared at the floor.
Subtle. I’m sure they’d all been jumping at the chance to go food shopping with me.
“Yeah, right,” I said. “And my Uncle still paints.”
He looked up at me, cocked his head to left. “You have an uncle?”
“Fuck.” I looked around the room. Why had I opened my traitor mouth?
“That’s like becoming your favorite word.” He walked around me, headed for the front door.
I didn’t want him to go.
I wanted him to like me again.
I said, “Who bit your dog?” Could I say nothing that didn’t come out like an insult? A walking scythe, cutting down everything in my path, that was me.
Adam stopped with his hand on the front doorknob, turned his head to look at me, disbelief in his eyes. “What did I do, Violet? What did we do?”
Violet. Now suddenly I became Violet.
I turned and walked into the kitchen, went around the corner so he couldn’t see my fists clench up and my jaw tighten and my eyes squeeze shut. This just kept getting worse and worse. Why couldn’t I have gotten a mean family in the first place, one that didn’t make me wish they were for real? One that didn’t make me believe they were real, even for one second.
I opened my eyes to see Adam standing in front of me, staring at me. I jumped.
“Fuck! Don’t creep up on me like that.”
“What were you just thinking about? You looked sad.”
I turned and went for downstairs. “None of your business.”
“You want to come to band practice with me?”
Which made me stop and turn around. He looked sincere enough. After all I’d said and done? You thought you’d knocked them down and then they got right back up. Like weighted punching bags or those Weeble-wobble toys. Couldn’t keep ’em down.
“Why would I want to go to band practice with you?”
He shrugged. “Something to do instead of moping around here all day, okay?” He started to walk past me. “Just forget about it. Stupid idea, anyway. Who the fuck am I kidding? You hate all of us so why should I bother, huh?” Opened the door and almost was gone.
I said, “Wait. I’ll go.”
Which made him stop and turn back to me. “Yeah?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
Just please, like me again. I trembled from that thought.
He closed the door. “Why?”
Because I couldn’t stand him hating me.
Because I loved him.
Because it shouldn’t matter but it did.
“What have I got to do?” Which wasn’t what I meant at all but it’d have to do.
He blinked. “Fine. I’ll wait while you get ready.”
I glanced down at my clothes. Olive tank top, Eeyore boxers, oatmeal wool socks, bright crimson scabs all in a row up the inside of my arm. “Fuck.” I headed downstairs, tried to hide them.
“Don’t bother.” Adam shook his head. “I already saw them. You starting some new bad habit or is it a latent behavior?”
I ignored him.
Had he seen the scars, too?
In my room I stood with my back pressed against the door until it hurt too much. I had no pain tolerance whatsoever. You’d think that would be the one thing I would’ve gotten out of this mess.
Finally I pushed myself away from the door, after my heart rate had returned to normal. Pulled on a gray wool sweater, a pair of overalls, and my combat boots. Just your average nice girl next door.
The truth of the matter was that I had no idea why I’d decided to go with Adam. Maybe it had been his face when he’d said that I hated them all anyway. Like he was maybe sorry about that and he’d like it to be different. I didn’t know. Maybe I’d turned out to be a turncoat pansy after all. Maybe.
I stared into the closet, tried to decipher the cosmic question of why I could give a fuck. It was like a bruise in there, all the clothes beige, black, gray, or olive. I touched my left jaw. The color it’d been a couple years back, when Mother had her hand on the back of my neck, shoved my face into the wall. I couldn’t remember what I’d done.
There was a knock on the door and I jumped, my hand to my stomach. It wasn’t Mother. It wasn’t. I tried not to puke.
“Vi, you flossing your toes in there or what?”
Adam. Just Adam.
So why was my heart still racing like I’d been lugging boxes for a year?
And now he called me Vi again, just like that.
I breathed deep. Opened the door.
He had a Polarfleece pullover on, a hat on his head and he held a pair of gloves. He looked me up and down.
“You’d never even know you’ve been cutting yourself up. Come on. I’m gonna be late.”
So I followed him, even though part of me really didn’t want to and the rest of me tried to come up with some smart remark but I couldn’t think of anything good, so finally I said, “I’m not cutting myself up, band boy.” Not my best defense by any stretch of the imagination, but oh, well. Gave it that old college try.
My wool pea coat hung upstairs in the closet so I grabbed it, pulled my olive skull cap on, followed Adam out. Our breath hung in the air and stillness held the world in hibernation.
“Band boy?” He raised an eyebrow at me. “That’s not very nice.”
“Ooh, big surprise, me not being nice. I can just see it’ll take you forever to get over the shock.”
Laughing, he started the car and we pulled out. “You know, Vi, you’re really funny when you’re not being a bitch.”
“Oh, and that’s supposed to make me swoon?”
“Naw. Just loosen you up. Stay loosened up. The guys are scared of you when you go sit in the corner and glower at them.”
“Glower? I glower at them? What an interesting word. Glower. Fabulous. You’re like a walking thesaurus.”
“Is that like a dinosaur? I’m getting confused with all the big words, Vi. Be gentle with me.”
I glanced at him. He smiled, teasing me with his cuteness. Guys who knew how cute they were ought to be shot. It turned it into an unlevel playing field.
“Fine,” I said. “You win. Round 36 to you, band boy.”
“Quit calling me that, man. It’s aggravating.”
I looked out the window at the frozen hills. “Good.”
“You want to explain that remark in words that I can understand?”
I shook my head, watched the world as it rushed past us. Trees and houses and people whirled by in a blur, like memories.
I looked back at Adam, who frowned.
“What?” I said.
He glanced at me, back out the windshield. “You’re so hard to read, Vi. Off and then on and then off again, like a freakin’ flashlight.”
“Look who’s talking, Mr. Moody.”
“I am not moody. I’m very cheery. Very.” Paused. “You think I’m moody?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. Just shut up and drive.”
So we drove to Enoch’s house on the other side of the university in silence, but it didn’t seem like a bad silence. I guess he’d kind of forgiven me for yelling at his family and I’d kind of forgiven him for making me like him.
I pressed my nails into my palms, tried to shut off my brain.
After they practiced for a few hours, in which I tried not to glower at anyone, we headed back to the house.
“You’re sounding really good.” I broke the comfortable silence.
He practically beamed at me. “You think? Really? Because I think so to. I mean, we’ve all been, like, totally pouring everything we’ve got into this, you know? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know why I care so much about this, but I do. Music has always been important to me, but this is so intense, now. I don’t know. I feel like I’m finally doing something. Something important, something that means something, something that’ll last, you know. Like your painting. That’s something. You and Ivan. Heavy shit. That’s what I’m feeling with the band. And I don’t know if anything will happen, if we’re good enough. But we’ve gotta be. I just wish Dad could understand. Mom does, but she’s different, you know? But Dad’s so uptight, and for him the whole world’s this like, chasm of despair, you know? But the band’s everything. He’s gotta accept it.”
“Why does it matter what he thinks?”
“I don’t know. It just does.”
He interrupted me. “Vi, he’s my dad. I just want him to get it, to understand why it’s important. I want him to get me. I want his respect.”
I turned to look at him.
He scared me, with his willingness to burn.
I remembered Uncle Stephen getting so excited about his paintings, he’d been like a little kid, all giddy and ecstatic. Interesting how vulnerable it made a person to be that open.
“Do the other guys think the band is this important?”
He grinned at me. “You’re the first person who’s asked the right question. The family’s all worried about how I’m gonna support myself and you’re all over the right question, the real question. They’re totally in agreement. They’re like, ‘We’ve gotta do it now, man.’ Besides, old rockers are just sad.”
I snorted. “Very nice.”
He laughed as he pulled into the drive and up beside the mini van. I started to get all tense about meeting The God.
“Dad wants me to have a real job, to have security.”
I turned and blinked. “Adam, really. Security, any sense of it, is a complete delusion. Safe from what? Dying? Being hurt by someone? Experiencing some cataclysmic event? What exactly are we pretending we’re safe from?”
Not having to meet Ivan. That was what I wanted to be safe from.
“Oh,” Adam slowly climbed out of the car. “Never really thought about it like that, I guess. Damn. Life sucks, doesn’t it?”
I stared at him across the top of the car. He looked like somebody’d punched him in the stomach. Surely, though, he’d thought about being unsafe, the instability of everything. He’d tried to kill himself. “Yes, Adam.” I pulled my hat down over my ears. “Life sucks. Want a cookie?”
“Vi!” He sounded surprised. “Why ya gotta be so sarcastic?”
“A fucking Pandora’s Box.”
“Always everywhere with something to say!”
“What’s that from?”
He shrugged. “Can’t think of it. Let’s go introduce you to Ivan.”
“I was afraid that would eventually come up.”
He stared at me. “You don’t want to meet him? Why?”
He practically wailed that I didn’t want to meet his hero, his icon, his True North. Fuck me.
“Puh-lease. I can’t imagine wanting to meet anyone as perfect as I’ve been led to believe that he is. I’ve got a hard-on just thinking about it.”
Adam pushed his hair out of his face with both hands. “Jeez, Violet. You can be so crass. Where does that stuff come from?”
I squinted my eyes at him. “Fuck, Adam. Quit acting so virginal. Jeez, you’d think you’d never heard guys talking dirty in the john.”
“Of course I have, but I didn’t think you had. Hang out in many guy’s locker rooms, Vi? I can definitely see that, you all in a corner, listening to all that shit. Yeah, right. And the Pope’s a cross-dresser.”
I smiled. “You never know with those guys. He practically always wears a dress.”
He shook his head, hands up. “Okay. You’ve got me. So let’s go face the dragon. I swear he won’t get less perfect the longer we stand out here.”
“Really? Damn. That was my plan all along, too.” Not really, but I’d tried to avoid going in there for as long as possible.
Not only Ivan, but the whole Grant Greek Chorus, waiting to flail me for being such a bitch. Adam may have forgiven me but none of them had.
Not that it mattered. I didn’t like them, anyway.
They were all on some collective trip, out in the cosmos.
But it would be nice to not be publicly flogged. That number the chorus did on Oedipus wasn’t a pretty one and not something I wanted to experience.
I followed Adam in all the same. I really had no where else to go. Started downstairs but glanced up at the cacophony. Everyone’s voices intermingled, up out of my sight. I couldn’t really distinguish anyone, but I would’ve recognized them anywhere. It somehow soothed me to hear them all laughing and talking and moving around. Adam smiled at me.
“Come on.” He held out his hand.
I looked at it, glanced up at his eyes. Saw patience there so sweet it made me catch my breath. I set my hand in his for just a second, took it back. Skin to skin was too much for me. He grinned a half smile, went on up. I followed like some lost puppy.
Mr. and Mrs. Grant sat at the dining room table beside each other, backs to the wall, facing the dining room entry to the kitchen. A big bouquet of snapdragons and long grasses sat in the middle of the table. Leah at the end of the table, her back to the French doors that led out to the deck. Dixon and Cohen raced around.
Where was Ivan?
Dixon hung from the entry to the kitchen and Cohen jumped from the back of the couch to the floor, ran down the hall to the other kitchen entrance, through the kitchen, slid under Dixon who lifted his legs up, put his feet flat against the ceiling, threw his body forward, and jumped down. Then Ivan dove through from the kitchen onto Dixon and started wrestling him and Cohen jumped on both of them. I stared in disbelief, held my breath.
Through all of that, Leah tried to tell a story, Mrs. Grant laughed, beamed at her tumbling boys, and Mr. Grant kept mumbling under his breath, “They’re going to break every single bone in their bodies one of these days. Just wait and see. Every bone. The femur, the little phalanges. Everything.”
The scene totally took my breath away and I turned to head downstairs but Adam grabbed my arm and I jumped and suddenly Mrs. Grant saw us and included me in her joy.
“Oh, Violet, we were worried there, you not leaving us a note, but Leah said for sure you were with Adam. Come meet Ivan.”
I stared down at the tangle of boys, which suddenly Adam joined, yelling at the top of his lungs. I took a few steps back as the writhing pile of bodies widened. “Nice to meet you,” I said.
A voice from the left of the pile yelled, “Nice to meet you, too.”
I decided to leave, turned to do just that, but Mrs. Grant called my name. I blinked at her. She smiled.
“Violet, why don’t you stay? Dinner’s coming soon. We’re ordering in Chinese. Come sit by me and tell me about your paintings, why don’t you? How is the interior series going?”
I decided to stay from the sheer inability to do anything else.
And this massive desire to belong.
I chose the chair farthest from Leah.
“So what are you working on now?” Mrs. Grant smiled benignly at the boys who apparently tried to pull each other’s limbs out of their sockets. Ah, household bliss. Families confused me.
I tried to focus on the table, something that wasn’t shifting around and yelling. “Give! I give!”
“You’re gonna eat dirt!”
All of which was really quite fascinating, in an academic sense. But also totally nerve-wracking.
“Uh...” I couldn’t remember what Mrs. Grant had asked me.
Leah said, “Mother, I was trying to tell you about council meeting.”
Mrs. Grant frowned. “Sorry. Right. Why don’t you start again?”
I glanced at Leah. She flicked her perfect long blonde hair over a shoulder, studied her nails, which might’ve had a chip in the polish. But I seriously doubted that disaster.
“Well, I don’t know Mom. The mood’s been broken. Why don’t we all just listen to Violet explain what she’s painting now?” She turned to me, wide fake grin in place. “Go on, Violet. Enlighten us.”
I hated her.
Mumbled, “Not working on anything.”
The guys started yelling particularly loudly at that moment, and Mr. Grant got up, rubbing his temples, headed into the kitchen.
“Dad, Dad,” said Cohen as Mr. Grant passed them. “Save me. Help me, help me, help me.” And dissolved into laughter as the other three ganged up on him. Mr. Grant didn’t even falter on his way out.
I bet he grew up in a quiet house. The cat people versus dog people thing.
That thought reminded me of Java, Uncle Stephen’s cat. She used to sit on the back of the couch, stretched out her full length, and purred with her whole heart, her head resting on the top of mine. She’d been all black and too skinny. She’d gone to live with Uncle Stephen’s best friend, Brian, after Uncle Stephen died. I wondered if she was okay.
I wondered why the Grants didn’t have any animals.
“Why don’t you guys have pets?” I asked Mrs. Grant.
She got a sad, still look on her face.
“Oh. Well. Our deer hound, Bambi, died this summer. She was hit by a car out front. She got out, broke away from the boys. We just haven’t decided when to get our next one, if we even want another dog. My cat died a year ago and I’m still not sure I’m ready. Did you have a pet at your mother’s house?”
I shook my head. Animals were too dirty for my mother.
“Do you want one?”
I stared at her.
Was she offering?
Was this a trap?
If I admitted I wanted something, she would use it against me.
Oh, God, my paranoia was ridiculous. I told myself to calm down. No big deal, I scolded myself.
I glanced at Leah. She frowned at me. What was she thinking? Could she be jealous that Mrs. Grant had asked me if I wanted a furry little baby? Did she want one?
I’d always wanted my own little kitten. A glossy little shadow to slip cream to and cuddle and sleep with.
I sat up straight, shrugged, mumbled, “Maybe.”
“Well, we should go down to the animal shelter or look in the paper for one. You’d have to walk it, or clean the litter tray, feed it, but I don’t see a problem with you having a pet of your own. What do you think, Violet? Shall we go get you a dog or cat?”
I still couldn’t look at her.
What would be the catch?
How would she use my cat against me?
Why did they persist in being so nice to me?
What do they want from me?
What would I have to give them?
I shook me head. I was too empty for this.
“No.” I said. “Thanks. But no.”
“Dear, it’s not a problem. I’m sure we’re all ready for a pet.”
“Forget it,” I said.
What would happen to my little one once I left? They’d keep it and I’d be fucked. No way.
I wasn’t really into the whole litter tray scene, anyway.
I glanced over at the pile of guys. They were still and quiet, watching me.
“What?” I said.
“Nothing,” Adam said. “Nothing.”
I got up, headed downstairs.
“What about dinner?” Mrs. Grant called.
In my room I hunched on the edge of the bed, head between my knees. I felt hollowed out. At the end of whatever had held me together. I was a shoestring tied box dangling over the edge of...
A knock on the door brought my head up. Couldn’t a girl be left alone in this house for one fucking minute?
“It’s Adam. Can I come in?”
“Okay.” I hoped he hadn’t come to chastise me. I didn’t think I could handle that.
I sat up straight, hands gripping the edge of the mattress.
The door opened and in walked Adam with Ivan close behind.
I caught my breath.
He had lied.
I narrowed my eyes at them both as Ivan closed the door and they sat down on the floor in front of me.
I studied Ivan. Tall, taller than Adam, but leaner, like an alley cat. He had a certain raggedness to him, a rangy wildness that spoke of feral roots and a willingness to throw himself far from home. Obvious Norse ancestors, with white blonde hair, thick and past his shoulders. Ice blue eyes that studied me in turn.
I looked back at Adam’s domesticity.
“So.” Adam pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Ivan wanted to talk with you and I didn’t think you’d let him in if I didn’t come down with him.”
“Now we’ll never know, will we?” I got myself worked up to say nothing. “So what do you want?”
Adam sighed, shifted into an easy, sprawled-legs position. He looked like he might’ve been trying to grow a goatee.
I rolled my eyes.
“Listen, Vi,” he said. “I just think, if you’d be interested in getting a pet, it’d be great, you know? We haven’t had a dog around here for too long. I miss them. But Mother’s unwilling to get one for us, says it’s too soon. But I know we’re ready, I think even she’s ready, or she wouldn’t have offered.”
“Well, Ivan, you look and sound so much like Adam that I’m getting confused, but thank you for that in-depth look into your family. Now bug off.”
Adam shook his head. “Vi, I....”
Ivan interrupted him. “No, I’ll take this one, Adam. The truth is, Vi, I agree with him and that’s why we came down. It seemed as though you would like a cat, and I don’t want you to say no for the wrong reasons.”
“What’s the big fucking deal? Doesn’t anybody understand ‘no’? Shall I put it in writing?”
“I just think Mrs. G. wants to do something nice for you, okay?”
“Why does everybody think I want a fucking pet, all of a sudden?”
Adam and Ivan glanced at each other, then looked at the floor.
“What?” I gripped the edge of the mattress, held on tight to the fringe of my ability to handle it all.
“Vi,” Adam said slowly. “You brought it up. You asked Mother why we don’t have any pets.”
“So? I was making conversation! Can’t a person ask a fucking question without everybody blowing it out of proportion?”
“It’s like the first real question you’ve asked, Vi. Since you asked us about Ivan. We just thought it was important because it’s so unlike you to just ask something, okay? Quit being such a bitch.”
I crossed my arms, willed them to leave me alone. “It’s the only thing I do really well, Adam. Everyone’s got to have their little hobbies.”
“Okay, Vi. You win. Round 62 to you. Happy?”
He stood, brows tight together, stared at the floor.
I said, “Terribly. Happy. So fucking happy.”
So happy that it hurt, right?
That’s what everybody said.
Ivan stood too, and looked at me. Really, really studied me.
He said, “Take it easy, little girl lost.”
And they went for the door.
I watched them leave with mixed feelings.
A cat would’ve been nice, to curl up with at night.
But I couldn’t get too attached to things.
To little furry creatures who purred.
Really, I couldn’t.